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More women own businesses now than ever before, and their ranks increase every day. These women-run firms span industries, headcounts, and growth rates, but they share many of the same opportunities and challenges.
We spoke with Kimberly Pope, Regional Director for New England North Business Banking at Citizens Bank, about the roadblocks remaining for women business owners and the unique strengths they bring to entrepreneurship.
Q: What are the primary challenges facing female entrepreneurs?
KP: Gender discrimination has diminished, but it still exists. Women can have a hard time breaking into industries that have historically been dominated by men. For example, we hear a lot about challenges facing women in the tech sector. The picture has certainly improved, but women are still not always seen in the same light as their male peers.
Women also still face challenges balancing caregiving expectations with their work life. The responsibility of taking care of children, aging parents, or both still falls on women more than men, and female business owners can struggle with trying to manage both domains.
Q: Research indicates that the lending gap between male-owned and female-owned organizations has widened. Why is this, and what can be done to narrow it?
Lenders typically consider the age of a business, the owner’s experience and cash flow when they make credit decisions. Many women-owned businesses are fairly new, which may mean they simply have not yet had a chance to establish themselves.
Also, there have been studies showing that women tend to be more risk-averse than men. They may be inclined to do extensive research before making a decision to seek financing. This caution can be good — but in excess, it can hold people back, since responsible use of debt can help businesses grow and compete.
Q: What strengths do women bring to business ownership?
KP: Women tend to be great at multitasking and juggling priorities. They also typically emphasize collaboration, which helps when it comes to delegating and sharing responsibility. That tendency is essential to growth, since no one person can do everything without burning out.
Generally speaking, women are also very invested in networking and purposeful about building relationships. They tend to be good at picking up on cues from others — which helps not only with relationship-building, but also with hiring and employee management. Tuning in to these cues can help in both evaluating prospective hires and motivating employees to do their best work.
Q: What opportunities are available to women-owned organizations that might not be available to others?
KP: The federal government and some state governments try to award a certain share of public contracts to women- and minority-owned businesses. The federal government even limits competition for certain types of contracts to women-owned organizations. Many large companies are also looking to broaden their relationships with women- and minority-owned firms through supplier diversity programs. If you sell products or services to large companies, or think there may be opportunities to do so, being a woman-owned operation could give you a leg up.
Q: How can women learn more about these opportunities?
KP: The SBA website is a good source of information about government contracting for women-owned businesses. It also provides information on how to certify your organization as woman-owned, which can help you compete for contracts and work with companies looking for diverse suppliers.
Networking, of course, can also help you find good opportunities. Go beyond merely introducing yourself and aim to build real connections by finding out exactly what others do and clearly conveying what you do. People may be able to make introductions or suggest possibilities that hadn’t occurred to you.
Q: What other advice would you give women entrepreneurs?
KP: Don’t be afraid to ask someone to advocate for you and champion what you’re doing. Building networks and expanding professional affiliations is helpful for growth, resourcing, and advice. No one likes to appear vulnerable, but sharing challenges and concerns encourages others to share similar circumstances that they’ve faced and allows for opportunities to learn from their experiences. That’s good advice for all business owners, and I think for women in particular. By nature, we are doers and want to figure everything out for ourselves — but sometimes, there is value in asking for help.
Women bring many innate strengths to business ownership. Success requires building on these traits and seeking support to bolster themselves in other areas.
Every successful business requires dependable partners. Citizens Bank offers financial tools and guidance to help you achieve your objectives.
Learn more about how we can help your firm reach its potential. Our dedicated business banking professionals can help you find the right product to meet your business’ needs. Please call 1-800-428-7463, or stop by your nearest Citizens Bank branch.
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